Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Thursday, August 2, 2018, 7:40 p.m. Singapore
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Last year, I attended the ASEAN-related Foreign Ministers’ Meetings immediately after becoming Foreign Minister, and this is my second time attending the ASEAN-related Foreign Ministers’ Meetings. I intend to clearly convey Japan’s position regarding the various issues of the region and deepen the discussion with the participating countries.
Today, at the Japan-ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, we confirmed an agreement in principle on the Japan-ASEAN Technical Cooperation Agreement. I am pleased that this achievement was made on the milestone year of the 45th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation. If this Agreement is formally concluded, Japan will be able to provide assistance to the entire ASEAN, in addition to the bilateral assistance to date. The Government of Japan will therefore continue to make efforts towards the signing of the Agreement at the earliest possible time. In addition, the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN Member States and I exchanged views regarding Japan-ASEAN cooperation, regional issues, among other matters. ASEAN expressed its appreciation for Japan’s assistance.
Today, I held bilateral meetings with the Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Iran, China, Brunei, Canada, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and Vietnam, respectively.
First, at the Japan-Turkey Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Minister of Foreign Affairs Çavuşoğlu and I confirmed that we would strengthen our political dialogue, deepen economic cooperation including negotiations on the Japan-Turkey Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), and promote cooperation in the field of disaster risk reduction.
At the Japan-Iran Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, I welcomed Iran’s continuous execution of the nuclear agreement and stated that Japan would continue to support the nuclear agreement and that the actions and role requested of Iran are critical for realizing regional stability.
At the Japan-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, taking into account the achievements of Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Japan in May, I exchanged views with Foreign Minister Wang Yi regarding the way forward for the improving Japan-China relationship with a view towards Prime Minister Abe’s visit to China within this year, followed by President Xi Jinping’s visit to Japan.
At the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with Brunei, which served as the country coordinator for ASEAN-Japan Dialogue Relations for three years, I conveyed to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II Erywan that Japan appreciates Brunei’s contributions.
At the Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, we confirmed that the two countries would work together on regional issues including North Korea and exchanged a variety of views regarding economic issues including trade. At this meeting, we exchanged views on how to build up momentum for strengthening Japan-ROK relations in the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the “Japan-Republic of Korea Joint Declaration: A New Japan-Republic of Korea Partnership towards the Twenty-first Century” in October. We also confirmed that the two countries would cooperate towards deepening our future-oriented relationship while appropriately managing the difficult bilateral issues. Regarding North Korean issues, we confirmed the importance of close Japan-ROK and Japan-ROK-U.S. trilateral coordination.
At the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with Vietnam, which will serve as the country coordinator for ASEAN-Japan Dialogue Relations from August, we confirmed to work together more closely during these foreign ministers’ meetings, including on the South China Sea issue.
Tomorrow will mark exactly one year since I was appointed Foreign Minister. I visited 44 countries or a total of 59 countries and held over 190 foreign ministers’ meetings or over 440 meetings including other meetings.
In addition, during this one year, I visited all ASEAN Member States and continued to hold foreign ministers’ meetings. Last year at this meeting, at the beginning I received critical comments that Japan would be mistaken to think that diplomacy could be conducted over a single telephone call, and I have committed myself to making full efforts to overcome this criticism. I have held multiple meetings with most of the foreign ministers who are attending these ASEAN meetings, and I have been able to build a trusting relationship with them at a personal level.
As I have stated repeatedly, amidst the significant changes in the situation since Japan was the largest contributor of Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the world, Japanese diplomacy has a large role to play in making Japan’s assertions clear, protecting the national interests of Japan, and contributing to global peace, stability, and prosperity. To this end, I realize it is important that I as Foreign Minister steadily deepen my relationships of trust with the foreign ministers of the respective countries.
Today’s meetings began extremely smoothly. While there were moments when difficult issues were discussed, our mutual trust was not eroded and I believe this demonstrates that my efforts thus far are beginning to bear some fruit.
I will now take your questions.
Reporter: I believe North Korea was one of the topics that were discussed in the various meetings you held. During these series of meetings, what views did each country convey regarding the U.S.-North Korea process following the U.S.-North Korea summit meeting? In addition, with regard to denuclearization, I believe you advocated the Government’s position of continuing to execute the relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. How did you advocate this position and what are your thoughts on the outcomes of this?
Minister Kono: I can state that virtually all the countries share the view that executing the UNSC resolutions supports the U.S.-North Korea process. All the countries have an extremely strong interest in the North Korean issues, and I gave a brief introduction to Japan’s views regarding these issues. While there were not opportunities to exchange views concerning North Korean issues with all the countries, there were quite a few opportunities to do so. I will continue to make efforts to send out a clear message through these series of meetings.
Reporter: Were there any particular instances where you saw a weakening or disintegration of unity over maintaining the sanctions?
Minister Kono: There were no such instances in particular.
Reporter: With regard to North Korea, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) will be held on August 4 as part of the series of meetings. Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho of North Korea is expected to attend the meeting. Can you explain once again how you will communicate Japan’s views to North Korea if you have contact with the Foreign Minister?
Minister Kono: There is nothing decided with respect to a meeting with North Korea or anything else.
Reporter: At the Japan-Canada Foreign Ministers’ Meeting earlier, I believe you expressed the view that now is a crucial stage that will determine whether or not the U.S.-North Korea process will succeed. Is it your understanding that there have been setbacks since the U.S.-North Korea summit meeting in June? What do you mean by crucial stage?
Minister Kono: The holding of the U.S.-North Korea meeting here in Singapore marked a step forward. It will become important more than ever that the international community works together closely to steadily press ahead and realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula or the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of weapons of mass destruction including missiles.
Reporter: So it is not the case that you were referring to crucial stage because the situation has suffered setbacks?
Minister Kono: That was not my particular intention.
Reporter: You just expressed the view that it is important to realize CVID. At today’s Japan-ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, did you use the term “CVID” to explain the importance of realizing denuclearization?
Minister Kono: I do not recall how I phrased it. I repeatedly stated on various instances that it is vital for each country to execute the measures based on UNSC resolutions.
Reporter: I have a question regarding the Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Was the issue of comfort women raised at today’s meeting? There is the issue of Japan’s monetary contribution.
Minister Kono: At today’s Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, we touched on a variety of bilateral issues. We agreed that it is important to develop a future-oriented relations while appropriately managing this issue.
Reporter: At a recent press conference you stated that it was becoming difficult to get Japan’s assertions across within ASEAN. What impression did you get at today’s meeting? For example, I understand there were countries that mentioned and did not mention North Korean issues at today’s Japan-ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. What was your impression in this regard?
Minister Kono: The North Korean issues are not Japan’s assertions but concerns shared by the international community. There is a shared recognition over these issues among the ASEAN Member States or many of the foreign ministers who are in Singapore today.
Reporter: Was any reference made to the abductions issue during your meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha? Did you make any comment and did Minister Kang Kyung-wha express any views?
Minister Kono: We exchanged a variety of views regarding the Japan-ROK relationship and North Korean issues today. I would like to refrain from disclosing Minister Kang Kyung-wha’s response to each issue. We shared the view that it is important that Japan, the United States, and the ROK frequently share their understanding of North Korean issues and send out a strong message together, and as I stated earlier, that it is essential for Japan and the ROK to develop a future-oriented relationship while appropriately managing the difficult bilateral issues. I requested and look forward to President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Japan.
Reporter: Did the two sides reach a shared view regarding the abductions issue as well?
Minister Kono: You can understand that we have a shared view.
Reporter: A short while ago, you stated that nothing has been decided with regard to a meeting with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. What importance do you attach to making contact with the Foreign Minister following the U.S.-North Korea summit meeting and what are your hopes for making contact with the Foreign Minister?
Minister Kono: We have communication with North Korea day to day through various channels. We do not see this as an opportunity to do anything in particular.